Skip to Content

Tampa-area serial killer pleads guilty to four murders that terrorized city in 2017

<i>Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times/Zuma Press</i><br/>Shelina Reneau
Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times/Zuma Press
Shelina Reneau

By Michelle Watson and Eric Levenson, CNN

A man accused of killing four people in random encounters in the Tampa, Florida, area of Seminole Heights in fall 2017 pleaded guilty to four counts of murder and was sentenced to life in prison Monday.

Howell Donaldson III changed his plea from not guilty to guilty Monday morning and was sentenced to four consecutive life terms for his crimes, according to Mike Moore, public information officer for the 13th Judicial Circuit Court Of Florida.

Prosecutors with the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office had previously said they would seek the death penalty if the case had gone to a trial.

The guilty plea and life sentence comes more than five years after four people were shot in Seminole Heights in separate incidents over the course of several weeks in October and November 2017.

The four seemingly unconnected victims were each killed — but not robbed — while walking alone at night within a half-mile area, police said, leading to fears of a serial killer on the loose. Officers swarmed the tree-lined neighborhood, advising residents not to go outside alone, to be alert and keep their porch lights on. Some residents stopped walking their dogs, running outside, going for walks or waiting for the bus alone, saying they no longer felt safe.

Police released two blurry videos of a suspect in the killings, to no avail. A breakthrough finally came in November when a manager at a local McDonald’s tipped police that an employee had given the manager a firearm for safe keeping and intended to leave the state, according to police.

That employee, Donaldson, had purchased the firearm, which was connected to the first three murders, according to a criminal affidavit. Further, cell phone location data connected Donaldson to an address in Seminole Heights near the scenes of the first three murders on the same dates and times as those murders, according to the criminal affidavit.

Benjamin Mitchell, 22, a full-time student at Hillsborough Community College, was shot and killed at a bus stop in the Seminole Heights neighborhood October 9.

Monica Hoffa, 32, a waitress, was shot and killed October 11. Her body was found two days later in a vacant parking lot.

Anthony Naiboa, 20, who had autism and had just started a temporary job packing relief supplies for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, was shot October 19 when he accidentally got on the wrong bus and ended up in Seminole Heights.

Ronald Felton, 60, who worked in construction and had three grown children, was shot in the back on November 14.

CNN has reached out to Donaldson’s attorney for comment.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - National

Jump to comments ↓

CNN Newsource


KTVZ NewsChannel 21 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content